The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Review: The Judge (UK Cert 15)


Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) is a successful attorney in Chicago, who is called back to his hometown in Indiana on the death of his mother. Hank's relationship with his family is a little strained, particularly with his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), who is also the town's judge. As Hank is ready to return to Chicago, he is forced to remain when Joseph is suspected of murder. Pretty soon, some longheld family secrets and resentments come tumbling out as son tries to defend father.

The Judge is equal parts family drama and legal thriller. What could have been a simple by-the-book potboiler is enhanced by some superb performances and a satisfying twist in the courtroom drama, even if the family drama is predictable at times.

Robert Downey Jr gives a great performance in the lead role. Hank is snarky, arrogant, dismissive, brilliant at his job but bad at personal relationships... for anyone thinking that it's money for old rope and you're just getting Downey Jr as Tony Stark pre: the cave, you're right and you're wrong. You can't help but be reminded of Stark in places, because of Downey Jr's mannerisms and way of speaking, but there's more to it than that. Downey Jr is an actor that can elevate shonky material into something more (and he's given quite a bit to elevate here) and, even when the script is at its weakest, he saves it from descending into melodrama.

However, for me, the film belongs to Robert Duvall (and not just because he's the titular character). Duvall puts in a strong and dignified performance as Joseph, impressing me with his wisdom in court and moving me as his personal story continues. He's been getting the lion's share of awards recognition and for good reason. Like Downey Jr, even when the script becomes soapy, Duvall still retains that dignity and gravitas. 

Other good performances come from Vincent D'Onofrio as Hank's brother and Joseph's son Glen, a former baseball star whose career was wrecked by an accident, which causes tension within the family. Jeremy Strong plays Dale, the youngest of the three Palmer boys, a sweetly naive mentally handicapped young man with a great subtlety and pathos. Billy Bob Thornton is also good as prosecuting attorney Dwight Dickham who goes against Hank in Joseph's trial. 

David Dobkin- better known for directing comedies such as Wedding Crashers, The Change-Up, and Fred Claus- is in the director's chair and makes a pretty decent fist of directing a drama. The script, by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque (from a story by Schenk and Dobkin), is where things start to fall down. There's quite a bit of superfluous material- Hank's marital problems and a visit from his daughter (Emma Tremblay) don't add a great deal; neither does the reunion between Hank and high-school sweetheart Sam (Vera Farmiga) and the mystery of the paternity of Sam's daughter Carla (Leighton Meester)- and excising this would have reduced the wearying 141 minutes down to a more manageable and less bum-numbing length.

It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Virtually all of the female characters are paper-thin and poorly written, whilst the family drama is uneven and lurches into melodrama. However, the legal thriller side of the film is excellent and the performances by Downey Jr and Duvall are superb. Worth a watch but only just. 

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

In Memoriam 2014


The world of film and entertainment have lost several luminaries this year. Whilst we wrote full tributes to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, Robin Williams, and Lauren Bacall throughout the year, there were several deaths we were unable to pay tribute to at the time. Here then are tributes to several of those stars, from in front of and behind the camera, who sadly passed away this year.

One of the best poets to ever use the English language, Maya Angelou wrote of identity, love and passion and produced some of the most stirring, moving poetry around. Her poems 'On The Pulse Of Morning' and 'A Brave And Startling Truth' are just two of her best. Angelou also appeared in films such as Poetic Justice, How To Make An American Quilt and Madea's Family Reunion

Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park (1993)
Richard Attenborough was a true icon of British cinema. His acting roles spanned seven decades, in films as diverse as Brighton Rock, I'm All Right Jack, The Great Escape, Seance On A Wet Afternoon, 10 Rillington Place, Jurassic Park, Miracle On 34th Street and Elizabeth. He was also a talented director, directing A Bridge Too Far, Chaplin, A Chorus Line and Gandhi for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. 

If you ever had nightmares after watching one of the Alien films, there's one man to thank/blame: H.R. Giger. He worked in the art department and designed the iconic Xenomorph look that has since become synonymous with horror. He and his team won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for their work on Alien.

Richard Kiel as Jaws
The towering 7ft 2in Richard Kiel played one of the most iconic Bond villains. He played the menacing metal-teethed Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and returned for Moonraker, making him one of the few recurring characters in Bond movies. Away from Bond, Kiel went on to appear in Cannonball Run II, Pale Rider and Happy Gilmore

While Rik Mayall may best be known for his television work- in The Young Ones, Filthy Rich And Catflap, The Comic Strip Presents..., The New Statesman, Blackadder, and Bottom- he also appeared in several films, including Guest House Paradiso, Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis and the utterly brilliant Drop Dead Fred. His appearance on Jackanory, performing George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, remains one of the highlights of my childhood. 

Mike Nichols worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, making his feature film debut in 1966 directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. He went on to direct over 20 films, including The Graduate (for which he won the Best Director Oscar), Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Primary Colors, Closer and Charlie Wilson's War.

Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters (1984)
Harold Ramis will always be known as one of the Ghostbusters. He played Dr. Egon Spengler in the 1984 classic and its 1989 sequel. Other acting roles included Seth Rogen's dad in Knocked Up and Dr. Bettes in As Good As It Gets. Ramis also directed several of the best comedies ever to hit the silver screen, including Caddyshack and Groundhog Day.  

Mickey Rooney was a child star, performing in films from the age of six. He appeared in nearly 20 Andy Hardy films before teaming up with Judy Garland for a series of musicals. He was nominated for his first Oscar at the age of 19 and would be nominated a further three times. He was married 8 times, firstly to Ava Gardner. He has one of the longest careers in cinema history, with film credits spanning an impressive ten consecutive decades. 

Elaine Stritch in Romance & Cigarettes
Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, known for her work with Stephen Sondheim, was one hell of a woman. Outspoken, no-nonsense, a great raconteur and actress, she originated several roles in Sondheim stage musicals and appeared in several films, including a scene-stealing cameo in Romance & Cigarettes, Monster-in-Law and Small Time Crooks. A recent documentary of her life- Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me- has been released, giving a glimpse into her extraordinary life.

One of the biggest child stars Hollywood has ever seen, Shirley Temple will always be known for singing 'On The Good Ship Lollipop'. However, there was so much more to her life than just being a child star. The first recipient of the Juvenile Academy Award (at the age of 6), she went on to retire from showbiz at the age of 22 and focused on politics, acting as US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Billie Whitelaw in The Omen (1976)
On stage, Billie Whitelaw is known for her collaborations with absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, performing as a disembodied mouth in Not I and as a woman buried up to her waist (then neck) in sand in Happy Days. On film, Whitelaw gave a frankly terrifying performance as the nanny Mrs Baylock in The Omen, appeared in Hitchcock's Frenzy, starred as Violet Kray in The Krays and was the voice of Aughra in The Dark Crystal. Her last film role was as Joyce Cooper in Hot Fuzz.


Others who passed away this year include:

  • British actress Lynda Bellingham
  • British actress Dora Bryan
  • American actress Marilyn Burns
  • British actor Warren Clarke
  • Civil rights activist and Oscar-nominated actress Ruby Dee 
  • British writer P.D. James
  • Screenwriter and director Paul Mazursky
  • British actress Kate O'Mara
  • Comedienne and actress Joan Rivers
  • Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell
  • Former President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Tom Sherak
  • Make-up artist Dick Smith
  • American actress Misty Upham
  • American actor Eli Wallach
  • Cinematographer Gordon Willis
  • Producer Saul Zaentz

Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: Unbroken (UK Cert 15)


Louis Zamperini, who passed away in July at the age of 97, had an incredible life. From tearaway child to track star, he competed in the 1936 Olympics before serving his country in the Second World War. He was downed at sea, surviving over 45 days in an inflatable dinghy, before being captured by the Japanese and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. He survived that ordeal and returned to America, becoming involved with Billy Graham and becoming a man of God. His story is truly inspiring. 

Perhaps a documentary about the man and his life would better serve his story than this muddled, messy, middle-of-the-road, by-the-numbers biopic. Unbroken has an over-reliance on trite movie cliches, which dilute the base story and turn it into a bunch of contrived vignettes instead of a gripping tale of survival and forgiveness.

Angelina Jolie's direction is workmanlike, solid but nothing special or spectacular. Some of the make-up and visual effects when Louis is adrift at sea look amateurish and cheap which undercuts the tension. That said, Roger Deakins' cinematography is- as usual- excellent.

As the adult Louis, Jack O'Connell ('71, Starred Up) makes a good fist of it. You empathise with Louis as he goes from one disaster to another and O'Connell's symapthetic portrayal is probably the best thing in the film. Other actors, such as Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney and Finn Wittrock, are wasted; good actors in flimsily-written roles. The performance by Takamasa Ishihara as Mutsuhiro Watanabe, Zamperini's chief tormentor in the camps, lurches from trying-to-be-sinister-but-just-coming-off-as-creepy and wide-eyed foaming lunatic with very little in between. Frankly, it doesn't make for interesting viewing. 

My major bugbear with the film is the script. Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson have adapted Laura Hillenbrand's memoir but have comprehensively botched it. It's badly structured, jumping around to flashbacks at odd moments, rather than following the linear story of Zamperini's life. It also has the rare quality of turning what was no doubt stirring advice- 'if you can take it, you can make it' and 'One moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory'- into leaden platitudes which is a monumental insult. There's also a massive infodump at the end of the film, detailing Zamperini's life once he returned. Whilst it's edifying to read, the details provide an intriguing story which we're just told rather than shown. 

They say that life is often stranger than fiction and that you couldn't write what happens in some people's lives as nobody would believe it. This is very much true of Zamperini's life. His is an incredible story but Unbroken really doesn't do it justice. Read Hillenbrand's book instead. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Tez

Review: Big Eyes (UK Cert 12A)


If you're outside the US (as I am), you may not be familiar with the work of Walter Keane. In the late 1950s, his paintings of big-eyed waifs took the American art world by storm. The critics hated them, found them kitsch, but that didn't matter- the American public loved them. There's just one small problem: Walter didn't paint a single one of them. His wife, Margaret, painted them all and he passed them off as his own. The truth only came out years afterwards when Margaret took Walter to court. Now, the story of one of the art world's biggest frauds has come to the big screen in Big Eyes.

It's an intriguing little curio, a thoughtful, funny piece, made by two brilliant performances.

Amy Adams plays Margaret, firstly as a wide-eyed ingenue then world-weary and embattled. She's swept along by Walter, initially upset that he would take credit for her work, but then reluctantly buying into the lie as the paintings start to sell. Such is the power of Adams' performance that you never turn against Margaret for her complicity in the lie, nor are you ever left feeling frustrated or angry with her for staying (when others may have left sooner). It's not a showy performance, no look-at-me moments, but it anchors the entire film. It's yet another excellent performance by Adams who surely can't be too far from that Oscar win.

Christoph Waltz is perfectly cast as Walter, a wolfishly charming man. Even when he's being unpleasant or cutting to Margaret, he retains an air of this charm. There are moments of vulnerability, when this facade falls, and you almost feel for him. Almost. When things don't go Walter's way, he acts out like a petulant teenager. That's why he's never a serious threat. His outlandish claims that he could have Margaret 'taken care of' if she reveals the truth never ring true. It's bluster, pure and simple. The final scene in the courtroom is a masterclass of comic performance as Walter chooses to defend himself. In lesser hands, Walter could have been a cardboard cutout villain or even a cipher but Waltz' broad performance  is a great counterpoint to Adams' calmer, more rational Margaret.

Other great supporting roles comes from Danny Huston as newspaper columnist Dick Nolan, who initially helps Walter's rise to fame and provides an arch narration at some points (making the point that the 1950s were good 'if you were a man'), Krysten Ritter is good as Margaret's friend DeeAnn, and there's a lovely arch cameo by Terence Stamp as art critic John Canaday who derides Keane's work. Delaney Raye and Madeleine Arthur give great performances as the younger and older versions of Margaret's daughter Jane who provides much-needed support for her mum. I'm often a bit wary of child performances in films, lest they come off as precocious or saccharine, but here, it works. 

Larry Karaszewiski and Scott Alexander's script is tight, there's very little padding or anything that feels superfluous, and there's some lovely cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. The film is directed by Tim Burton but this isn't your typical Tim Burton film, there are only minimal flourishes of whimsy (such as a scene where Margaret is in the supermarket and starts to visualise people with big eyes).

I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was quirky and interesting, and told a great story that I didn't know about. Well worth a watch.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Watchers Review Of 2014

The Watchers Christmas Special 2014, here we are with our Review of the Year show. We have a chat between the 3 of us and talk about what was nice, naughty and whats coming next in 2015. Enjoy :)

 
The Watchers: Review Of 2014 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review: Penguins Of Madagascar (UK cert U)



Quite often, animated films will feature minor characters that make a big impression. Scrat in the Ice Age films and Gru's Minions in Despicable Me are prime examples. You can also add the penguins from the Madagascar films to that list. Their antics- especially the zoo break in the first Madagascar film- are, for me, the highlights of that movie. But can they carry a film all on their own? 

Yes, they certainly can.

The plot- such as it is- sees Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) go up against Dave the Octopus (John Malkovich) who wants revenge against the cute and cuddly critters. The penguins are aided/abetted by an elite unit called North Wind, led by a suave wolf whose name is Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). 

Malkovich and Cumberbatch are arguably the biggest names in the film and both seem to be having an absolute ball. It's also heartening to see that the studio resisted the urge to add star names as the voices of the penguins, with McGrath, Miller and Knights reprising their roles from the Madagascar films (and TV series) and Vernon in place of John DiMaggio.

The script is occasionally corny, occasionally cheesy, but there's an awful lot to laugh at: the running gag of Dave's commands to his octopi minions forming the names of well-known actors (eg  'Nicolas, cage them' or 'Elijah, would you...') works well and there's a great scene where Dave contacts the North Wind but can't get the microphone to work. There's also a nicely sly dig at penguin documentaries with a voiceover provided by Werner Herzog.

At 92 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome. Children will be entertained and there's some great jokes to keep the adults amused too. A decent slice of silly, family fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Monday, 15 December 2014

Awards Season 2015: Critics' Choice Movie Awards Nominations


Another week, another awards nomination announcement. Today saw the nominees annouced for the 20th Annoual Critics Choice Movie Awards, handed out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. 

Here is a selection of their nominations:


Best Picture
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory Of Everything
Unbroken
Whiplash

Best Director
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Angelina Jolie (Unbroken)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Best Actress
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Supporting Actor
John Brolin (Inherent Vice)
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)
Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

What is cool about the Critics' Choice Awards is that, aside from the usual cinema awards that most ceremonies give out, they also give out separate awards for genre films (eg. Best Action Movie,  Best Comedy, Best Sci-Fi/Horror) and also have Best Actor and Actress categories for some of these films as well.

There is some overlap this year with Michael Keaton and Ralph Fiennes both nominated for in the Best Actor and Best Actor In A Comedy categories for their roles in Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Birdman leads the way with a whopping 13 nominations with The Grand Budapest Hotel coming in second with 11. Boyhood got 8 while The Imitation Game got 6.

Some column inches have been given to the fact that, even in an expanded field of six nominees, Fiennes was nominated for Best Actor in the place of Steve Carell for Foxcatcher. However, given the Academy's notorious snobbery towards broadly comic roles, the chances of Fiennes getting an Oscar nod are slim- although not impossible. 

Those who follow these awards season blogs- and bless you if you do- will recognise a lot (and I mean A LOT) of the names and films. 

Awards season gets a bit quiet for the next few weeks, over the Christmas and New Years period, but the next big announcement will be the Producers' Guild Awards nominations on January 5th (always a good indicator of some of the Best Picture Oscar nominees) with the BAFTA nominations later that week (January 9th).

Tez

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One


I blame Harry Potter. 

Splitting the film adaptation of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows into two films started a precedent, especially among final instalments of Young Adult novel adaptations. The Twilight franchise did it. The Divergent franchise will do it, and now The Hunger Games has done it. Whether it was done for a cynical marketing ploy to wring more money from the fans or whether done for the exigences of the story, I don't know (I suspect a little of Column A and a little of Column B) but, as it stands, here is Mockingjay: Part One

After the events of the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now in the militaristic District 13, overseen by the powerful President Coin (Julianne Moore). Since Katniss' actions in the arena (as seen in Catching Fire), Panem has been in a state of rebellion. Coin wants to capitalise on this momentum and try and overthrow the Capitol, but they need a figurehead- they want Katniss to act as their Mockingjay. There's just one problem. Several of the other tributes in the Quarter Quell arena, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have been captured and are being held by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss agrees to act as the Mockingjay but there's a few conditions: one being the immediate rescue of the tributes...

Without the focus of the actual Games itself, there was a danger that there would be no focal point of action in Mockingjay. Luckily several action set pieces make up for this. It's also chockful of brilliant performances, none more so than Jennifer Lawrence.

Lawrence has been superb in the other films and continues that high level of quality here. What's interesting about Katniss' position in Mockingjay is she's not a superhero, she's traumatised and scarred by what's happened to her and that comes through. Lawrence shows a startling level of maturity, sharing the screen with some of the strongest actors working in film at the moment and matching them. Truly remarkable work.

Julianne Moore- criminally underrated- is great as Coin. She's ruthless, determined but not callous or unfeeling, just incredibly pragmatic. Donald Sutherland is similarly great as President Snow, giving quite a broad performance (almost Bond-villain-esque in places, wide-eyed madness in lieu of previous steely understatement) but in terms of the character arc, it's completely understandable. Liam Hemsworth- so often relegated to minor player in the other films- gets more of a substantive role here and does well as Gale. Philip Seymour Hoffman's scenes have an added poignancy to them but it's a reminder of how good he was as an actor as Plutarch schemes and manipulates to get Katniss to be the Mockingjay.

Elizabeth Banks returns as Effie Trinket, now much more understated away from the ostentatiousness of the Capitol but losing none of that trademark camp bite. Natalie Dormer is strong as director Cressida, charged with making the propaganda films to destabilise the Capitol. Josh Hutcherson's performance as Peeta is affecting as the effects of the Capitol's torture of Peeta is writ large across his face. Finally, there's a lovely performance by Sam Claflin as Finnick, one of the tributes who puts himself on air to divulge a few of the Capitol's nasty little secrets as the rebels storm the Capitol in search of the tributes.

The other two films have made much of the contrast between the life in the Districts and the opulence and overindulgence of the Capitol, with the Capitol scenes bright and gaudy and obscenely over-the-top. There's not much made of that this time - the whole palette of the film seems muted and there are no real flashes of colour. It's a much more serious world presented (even though they still do the really annoying and frankly nauseating camera work where the cameraman runs after the characters and the camera shakes with every jolt).

They've also picked a bit of a weird place to split the book and end the first film (but then I felt the same about Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows). They could have easily cut it a good 10-15 minutes before and ended on a nice cliffhanger, but they choose to press on and end it on a less powerful moment. 

These are minor issues and do not detract from the whole thing. It's a strong film and worth your time and I'm looking forward to seeing the resolution of the franchise when Mockingjay Part Two hits cinemas next November.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Awards Season 2015: Golden Globe Nominations


Today (Thursday 11th December) saw the nominations announced for the 72nd Golden Globes. 
 

The Golden Globes split the films into Drama and Musical/Comedy strands for some awards, which does mean that films and performances that may generally get overlooked when it comes to the Oscars do get recognition (it's rare that a purely comedic role will get an Oscar nod - the last one probably being Melissa McCarthy's turn in Bridesmaids). As usual, there's a high level of correspondence between these and some of the other award nominations announced meaning that several films and performances take another step closer to the coveted Oscar nomination.

Here are a selection of the Golden Globes' film nominations:

Best Motion Picture - Drama
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory Of Everything

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into The Woods
Pride
St Vincent

Best Director - Motion Picture
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Bill Murray (St Vincent)
Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)
Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams (Big Eyes)
Emily Blunt (Into The Woods)
Helen Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey)
Julianne Moore (Maps To The Stars)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

The Supporting Actor category brings all five nominees from the SAG Awards over, as does the Best Actress (Drama), with four of the five SAG nominees in Supporting Actress also appearing on the list (here, Chastain- who received an Independent Spirit Award nominee for the same role-  is favoured over Naomi Watts). 

It's abolutely brilliant to see Pride get a nod for Best Musical/Comedy. It's also nice to see The Grand Budapest Hotel get some recognition, garnering four nominations overall (three more than Interstellar that got one nod for Hans Zimmer's score). 

Next up in awards season is the Critics' Choice Awards whose nominations are announced on Monday (15th December)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Review: Black Sea (UK Cert: 15)


Having spent over ten years captaining submarines, Robinson (Jude Law) is given the boot by his company. When he learns that there is a derelict submarine hidden in the Black Sea, filled with Russian gold, Robinson gathers a team together to retrieve the $40 million loot. It’s not spoiling anything to say that things go horribly wrong.

While I try not to go to the cinema expecting greatness, or get caught up in all the hype, with Black Sea (directed by Touching the Void’s Kevin MacDonald), I was ready for two hours of chair-grabbing tension. While MacDonald’s latest is entertaining enough, with some impressively shot set pieces and a cast who all do good work, it is virtually one predictable scene after another.

Dennis Kelly, one of the chief writers on Channel 4’s Utopia, gives you plenty of signposts or flashing lights during a scene, so that you know what’s coming. When Robinson gives us a roundup of his crew, one of them is introduced as a “psychopath” (Ben Mendelsohn who, in fairness, gives us a credible maniac instead of clich├ęd beady eyes and an evil grin). You don’t win anything for guessing that all the trouble starts because of this unhinged member of the team.

Slowly, the crew members are killed off, either through accidents or greed-fuelled murder. Unless you don’t watch films all that often, you can’t fail to notice a trend with the casualties: the least useful – or thinly written – characters are bumped off first. A scene which is supposed to be shuffle-around-in-your-seat tense is ruined because you know that a character is about to die.

What saves Black Sea is that, rather than being a nerve-wracking ride, it is heart-breaking to watch the cast succumb to greed, their desperate situation getting even worse. It’s all appallingly believable. Robinson and his crew have given their lives to their jobs. The submarine is their life, outside of it they have nothing, and yet the multi-million pound companies they used to work for don’t value them, just see them as another wage, leaving them with no money, taking demeaning jobs just to feed themselves. When Robinson tells everyone that they will get an equal share of $40 million, you can understand when you see them conjuring up all sorts of plans.

Jude Law gives a complex, career highlight performance as Robinson. To begin with, Robinson plans the voyage in the hope that becoming a millionaire will bring him his family back; screwing over the bureaucrats and money makers firmly in second place. Yet as things go from bad, to worse, to dire for the survivors, his priorities change, obsessed with getting the reward he has earned, giving his ex-employers the finger, and risking his crew’s lives to do it.

Scoot McNairy (Argo, Gone Girl) plays a slimy Personal Assistant and, as the film goes on, manages to make you sympathise with him. As Daniels, he is on the submarine to ensure his boss, the investor, is getting his money’s worth and that things run smoothly. Daniels mocks the crew members for ending up working as paper boys or serving fast food; his only worry is the numbers. In the third act, Daniels stops caring about money and just wants to live. While he plots and backstabs to ensure he’s one of the last men standing, Daniels is absolutely right when he points out that Robinson is only thinking about the gold, not the lives of those around him; exactly what Daniels was doing early on.

Once everyone is underwater, cinematographer Christopher Ross (Eden Lake, BBC’s United and Blackout) turns the visuals up a notch. There’s something bleak and beautiful about Black Sea’s submarine. Placing the camera in numerous cramped spaces and using dim lighting, Ross makes the tarnished interiors, filled with pipes, gauges and creaking machinery, another member of this double-crossing crew; everyone’s home for the next several days is working against them, ending up as their tomb.

MacDonald’s new film could have been just as agonisingly tense as Yann Demange’s ’71, but is held back by a seen-it-all-before script (there’s even one scene that dares to use the old “drowned body suddenly springs out” trick). Everyone does their best here, but with no surprises, nothing to make you question what’s about to happen, Black Sea is a harmless way to get rid of a couple of hours instead of being a full-on assault on your nerves.

3 out of 5

Matt

Awards Season 2015: SAG Award Nominations


Yep, it's another dose of Awards Season fun. Don't worry, this won't take long (as the bishop said to the actress)

Today saw the announcement of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, which- like the Golden Globes- give awards for both television and film.


Here are the film nominations:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory Of Everything

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)
Naomi Watts (St. Vincent)

It's a double whammy for Cumberbatch, also being nominated for Best Actor in the TV nominations for Sherlock.

Interesting to see Steve Carell nominated as Best Actor for Foxcatcher, as early reviews have suggested his is more of a supporting role (maybe in terms of story), but having seen a trailer for the film prior to The Imitation Game, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

As I'm in the UK, I think I legally have to say it's been 'A Good Showing For The Brits'(TM) with well-deserved nominations for Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Jones, Pike and Knightley (and those who know me will know how difficult it was to write that last part)

Tomorrow (11th December) is the Golden Globe nominations. Be interesting to see whether the same names come up tomorrow.

As you were.

Tez

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Comic-Book Movie Round-up: December 2014

So, there's been quite a bit of comic book movie news recently, with massive announcements from both Warner Bros and Marvel Studios over their respective slates for the next five years. There's also been some great casting news announced. 

THE DC CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

2015 will still be dominated by Marvel Studios with both Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man (and the first of the new Fantastic Four films) but, from 2016, Warner Bros and DC Entertainment throw their hat into the ring with the start of their cinematic universe, opening with the utter doozy of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and then moving on to Suicide Squad.


Casting was announced this week for Suicide Squad, which is to be written and directed by David Ayer (End Of Watch, Fury).

Will Smith will play Deadshot, whilst recent Oscar-winner Jared Leto will play The Joker and The Wolf Of Wall Street's Margot Robbie will play Harley Quinn. Tom Hardy will play Rick Flagg whilst A Good Day To Die Hard's Jai Courtney is Captain Boomerang. Finally, model Cara Delevingne  will play Enchantress. There's also a rumour that Jesse Eisenberg may make an appearance, reprising his role as Lex Luthor from Batman V Superman

Fans may notice that there's one piece of casting that has yet to be announced, and that's of the Suicide Squad's head honcho, Amanda Waller. Whilst no casting has been announced, it's been reported that Oprah Winfrey, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are all under consideration.


In 2017, there'll be a standalone Wonder Woman movie, presumably with Gal Gadot reprising her role. Michelle MacLaren (who has done sterling TV work on episodes of Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad) will direct and the screenplay will be written by Jason Fuchs. 

Also in late 2017, there'll be the first part of a Justice League movie to be directed by Zack Snyder (Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman). Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Amy Adams are already signed on to reprise their roles of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane. The second part will hit screens in 2019.


In 2018, The Flash will make his big-screen debut played by Ezra Miller (We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower), as will Aquaman with Game Of Thrones' Jason Momoa in the lead role. No doubt Miller and Momoa will also appear in the Justice League movies. 

In 2019, along with the second part of the Justice League movie, Shazam will hit the screens. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has already announced he will be playing Black Adam but no other casting has been confirmed as yet.


Finally in 2020, a Cyborg movie (starring Ray Fisher as Victor Stone, who will also appear in other movies) and a reboot of Green Lantern completes DC's ambitious slate. Considering that the 2011 Green Lantern movie is generally considered to be a bit of a turkey (losing millions at the box office), it's no surprise they've decided to leave the reboot until last. 

Plans have also been announced for standalone Batman and Superman movies but these have not formed part of this plan as yet.


THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

I did a quick blog when the Marvel slate for 2016-2019 was announced but there have been a few new bits of information since (most notably a major piece of casting)


Captain America 3 was slated for May 2016 (US date), and was originally opening on the same day as Batman V Superman. Were Marvel afraid? Nope. Their date remained unchanged and now it's clear why: the third Captain America film will adapt the highly esteemed Civil War storyline.

Essentially, Civil War pits Cap against Tony Stark over a government bill aimed at forcing superheroes to register themselves and reveal their identities. Cap is against it, Stark is for. Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans will reprise their roles, and this will also be the debut for Chadwick Boseman who was announced as playing Black Panther. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely will also return from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


Also in 2016, Marvel takes a dip into the more supernatural side of things with Doctor Strange. It was confirmed this week that Benedict Cumberbatch would take the role of the Sorceror Supreme after weeks of speculation. Scott Derrickson (The Day The Earth Stood Still, Sinister) will direct with a script being rewritten by Jon Spaihts.



2017 is going to be a bumper year for Marvel with no less than 3 movies expected for release (at the moment). First of these is Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, which should see the original cast reteam under returning director James Gunn. Next up is Thor: Ragnarok, which will see Asgard under threat from the end of all things. At the moment, Chris Hemsworth will be returning and (it is expected) Tom Hiddleston. Less certain would be Natalie Portman or Anthony Hopkins' involvement, but as no story details have emerged so far, it's difficult to say. Marvel finish the year off with the standalone film for Black Panther.



In 2018, cinemas will get the first part of Avengers: Infinity War which is a very exciting prospect. Josh Brolin is expected to reprise his role as Thanos, as the plot focuses on Thanos' use of the Infinity Stones to terrorise the universe. Summer 2018 will see Marvel's first female-led superhero movie with Captain Marvel, which has been confirmed as being Carol Danvers. There's been a longstanding rumour that Katee Sackhoff is linked with the role but this is just idle gossip at the moment (although I think she'd be kickass). 2018 tounds off with Inhumans.

2019 sees the release of the second part of Avengers: Infinity War. Nothing else has been announced after that. 


20TH CENTURY FOX

Whilst Marvel and DC are the big hitters, Fox have a decent slate of superhero movies due out with reboots of one property and a few sequels to others.


2015 sees the release of the rebooted Fantastic Four, with Miles Teller (Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Kate Mara (Sue Storm/Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch) and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/The Thing) in the lead roles. British actor Toby Kebbell will take the role of Dr. Doom, and Chronicle director Josh Trank will oversee the project.

In early 2016, the Deadpool spin-off will be released, with Ryan Reynolds appearing to be close to reprising his role from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (he's been dropping a few less-than-subtle hints on social media this week). Tim Miller will make his directorial debut.


Also in 2016, X-Men: Apocalypse will hit the screens with Bryan Singer back in the director's chair. The action moves to the 1980s and rumour has it that it will tie up the First Class trilogy. Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) has been cast as Apocalypse. 

Early 2017 currenly sees the sequel to The Wolverine. The only information available so far is that James Mangold, who directed The Wolverine, is attached to direct and that Hugh Jackman will star. No clue on plot or other casting as yet.

Summer 2017 will also see The Fantastic Four 2. The four main cast are expected to return, but that's all we know so far. Josh Trank's involvement is uncertain due to his commitments for a standalone Star Wars film.


There's an untitled X-Men movie rumoured for 2018, and Channing Tatum has seemingly been confirmed as playing Gambit (in an interview with producer Laura Shulde Donner), but whether Gambit will appear in this one or maybe even appear in X-Men: Apocalypse is uncertain. 


SONY AND SPIDEY


Currently, Sony have four comic book projects slated- Sinister Six, Venom, a female-led Spider-Man spin-off and The Amazing Spider-Man 3. However, given the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn't exactly set the box office alight, it looks as if plans may be altered slightly. 

Currently, Drew Goddard's Sinister Six movie is still slated for late 2016 although there's been zip in the way of either casting or even which of the Spidey supervillains will make up the Sinister Six. 

As for the female led Spider-Man movie, the best bet would be Black Cat (as the character was hinted at in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) but there are absolutely no details about this project, apart from the concept and a vague release date of 2017. Similarly, the Venom project hasn't progressed either- again, a vague release date of 2017 is the only thing to say, but rumours are that the project has been canned and the character may appear in the Sinister Six instead.

The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is provisionally down for release in 2018, having been moved back from 2016 (thus removing a previously-earmarked Amazing Spider-Man 4). However, there are rumours of yet another reboot in the works or even Sony entering talks with Marvel to allow Spider-Man to join The Avengers (which would be awesome but a logistical nightmare, one would imagine). 

Other studios have provisionally or fully set their rosters and publicised at least some of their films. Sony is the only one with a major comic-book franchise that hasn't. Make of that what you will. 



So, as you can see, there's a lot to go see in the next few years. Here's a handy calendar of what to expect when (please note, this may be schedule to change- let's face it, we are talking some longterm planning here!)


2015

April 24 (UK)/May 1 (US): Avengers: Age Of Ultron

July 17: Ant-Man

August 6 (UK)/August 7 (US): The Fantastic Four


2016

February 12: Deadpool

March 25: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

April 29 (UK)/May 6 (US): Captain America: Civil War

May 19 (UK)/May 27 (US): X-Men: Apocalypse

August 5: Suicide Squad

November 6: Doctor Strange

November 11: Sinister Six


2017

March 2 (UK)/March 3 (US): The Wolverine sequel

April 28 (UK)/May 5 (US): Guardians Of The Galaxy 2

June 23: Wonder Woman

July 14: The Fantastic Four 2

July 28: Thor: Ragnarok

October 27 (UK)/November 2 (US): Black Panther

November 23: Justice League Part One


2018

March 23 - The Flash

April 27 (UK)/May 4 (US): Avengers: Infinity War Part One

July 6 - Captain Marvel

July 13 - untitled X-Men movie

July 27 - Aquaman

October 26 (UK)/November 2 (US): Inhumans


2019

April 5 - Shazam

April 26 (UK)/May 3 (US): Avengers: Infinity War Part Two

June 14 - Justice League Part Two


2020

April 3 - Cyborg

June 19 - Green Lantern


Busy time ahead!